Meanwhile on Planet Babergh

Just when you think that lessons gave been learned, you realise that very few people pay attention to history, whether it is recent history or not.
Readers of this blog may recall that on May 3rd 2016 I posted a commentary on the then continuing saga of East House, which Suffolk County Council had handed back to Babergh who didn’t know what to do with it except to evict the tenants and leave it empty. The unfortunate history of East House is that whilst Babergh made up its mind, the market moved on and any rehabilitation/upgrading with a view to selling was rendered uneconomic.
This week’s news is that Babergh District Council are to increase the debt threshold for Babergh Growth Ltd., from £3,7 million to £7m to facilitate cash flow. The company is responsible for the redevelopment of Babergh’s former offices in Corks Lane We can assume that the cash will be flowing all one way for some time to come as the cash holdings of the company were only £61,433 at 31st March 2021.
The development is expected to realise 57 homes. Due to increased costs and impacts from Brexit, the war in Ukraine and inflation, the costs of the scheme have gone up by £680,000 over four years– which begs the question why is there an increase in borrowing powers of £3.3 million.
And now comes the prize-winning comment from the Great Leader of the Rainbow Coalitioned Council (John Ward) “Ultimately the development is still expected to break even or even show a modest profit”
Why are we undertaking a marginal project? You can almost hear echoes of “With a fair wind and a few sunny days, this time next year we could all be millionaires”
It’s time to go back to basics. The economic outlook is not good and the project needs to be reworked to bring the projections back to a reality which will give comfort to the residents that their leaders know what they are doing.

The Great Helmsman

I like reading spy novels. Whether it is The Three Musketeers, through to
John Le Carré and currently Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series. Through all the novels you can see the need for informational intelligence. Even Peaky Blinders has strong elements of inside knowledge, whether it is fixing races or choosing which side of a contest you will be on. Reading spy novels also let’s you explore the how, what and why of any situation
So, I greeted the news with interest that John Ward, Leader of Babergh District Council has resigned from the Conservative Group, has formed an Independent Conservative Group with three others and is now heading up a rainbow coalition with other minority party councillors.
What is going on?
We are told it arises from the dismissal from the Cabinet of an independent councillor which lead four other councillors to resign from the Cabinet. Plans to form a minority administration with other Conservative councillors fell by the wayside and so one thing lead to another.
There was a meeting of the (Conservative Councillor) group on Sunday 24th John Ward’s proposals were unacceptable. I guess that at some point the toys went out of the pram, a huff was called and John went off in it.
On the Monday John resigned from the Conservatives and formed his so-called Rainbow Cabinet.
How the Rainbow Cabinet members will be successful in the next district election in 2023, I cannot tell. But South Suffolk Conservatives (the councillors’ sponsoring organisation) must decide how this affects their plans.
Constitutionally, the defecting members must either resign from the party or be expelled. In either case they face the prospect of having official candidates stand against them and also having to pay off their 2019 election expenses.
For the time being John Ward remains the Great Leader, resting upon the support of the Independent Conservatives, The Independents, The Lib-Dems and the Greens.
I can see it all ending in tears. The Shotley Independents and the Greens are against car park subsidies, particularly in the two towns of Sudbury and Hadleigh. I guess that the headline Council Tax will come down or will be less than the Government cap and any shortfall will be met by increased parking charges and increases in any other charges that can be levied.
Watch out for higher planning fees, brown bin fees and so on.
John Ward is holding onto his powers not because he has a great vision that he must implement. He’s holding on because he doesn’t want to be a back bencher and this way he upholds his amour propre.
Such a position does not bode well for Babergh nor for Councillor Ward
Photo © Greg Fitchett (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Vanity of Vanities; All is Vanity

The Church of the Militant Elvis Party first appeared on the national political scene in 2001 when the party stood in Brentwood (Essex) where it ran in the General Election against Eric Pickles and Martin Bell. As a very minor party it unsurprisingly garnered 68 votes.
The party contests all General Elections and some by-elections. Their beliefs include Elvis still being alive and living in an old people’s home on the Lincolnshire coast somewhere between Skegness and Mablethorpe.
Its aims are to combat the influence of various right-wing churches on mainstream parties in the U.K.
Furthermore, the Party believes that the established church’s involvement with the global market is yet another contradiction of Jesus’s teachings. They are also interested in stopping the degradation of the planet by capitalism and the attacks on old people’s welfare in the UK.
So far so good. I came across them this month when I was looking at the by-election results for Erdington (Birmingham) when the party came last with 8 votes. Usually, they score between 50 and 200 votes each time and to end the latest campaigning season with only 8 votes seriously suggests that they are having trouble getting their message across or that they have become the Billy No-Mates of political parties.
All in all, the ratio of cost to votes indicates that standing in elections can be a vanity project beyond understanding.
Since power comes from the people and respecting the King, I’m pleased to plug their web site: https://grumpyoldelvis.co.uk/

The Bildeston Melon

Scratch a Green and discover what sort of melon they are. Are they red on the inside (closet Socialist) or yellow (closet Liberal).
I’ve always had my doubts about Robert Lindsay, leader of the Greens on Babergh and a County Councillor in Suffolk.
I was not too surprised when Lindsay announced that he would have reduced Council Taxes by increasing car parking charges specifically in Hadleigh and Sudbury.
So far, as expected.
On Monday (21st Feb) the Greens at the Babergh District Council Meeting went further. Cllr Lindsay expanded on the Green ambition that if all parking was taxed appropriately the monies raised and saved could go to subsiding bus services and providing grants and other support to those businesses adversely affected by the parking regime.
So it’s in with more bureaucracy in the guise of serving the people with the additionality of opportunities for waste and corruption in money dispersal matters
So, now we see their true colours. They are not interested in global warming as such but are keen on redistributive taxes. The car parks are to be a money maker.
And what if that’s not enough? Will they advocate (like some councils) taxing parking spaces at work? Will they regard garages at home as facilitating car ownership and therefore taxable?
At District level Robert represents Bildeston and its surrounding area. Bildeston is a large village with just over 1,000 inhabitants. It also has free, maintained parking in its village square. Is this square to be monetised? Is it to be exempt? Do the villagers know Cllr Lindsay’s ambitions?
We should be told, but I don’t think we shall.

Photo © Evelyn Simak (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Poodle Councillor of the Year

It’s not too late to nominate the Poodle Councillor of the year.
Alastair McCraw, Babergh & Mid-Suffolk’s chair of Scrutiny gets my nomination.
His comment (EADT 21st Aug) that it was not the job of his committee to delve into the accounts of the Council’s property company indicates that he and his committee felt able to discuss the results of the Council’s endeavours without seeing the formal accounts of the company.
Had he reviewed the formal accounts, he would have seen that the auditors have revalued the property portfolio downwards as at 31st March with a note that the revaluation included material value uncertainty as a result of the pandemic meaning that less certainty and a higher degree of caution should be applied to the valuation than would normally be the case.
In other words, the situation may be worse than the figures suggest.
Moreover, he would have also concluded that the revenues may have been overstated as they include rentals billed but not paid. Indeed, rentals not yet paid are treated as debtors (current assets).
So, there is possibly a double whammy of overstated profits and unrealistic current asset values.
The Joint Scrutiny Committee could have teased out all these issues and taken an informed view.
There may be a case of muddling through to see what happens, but that requires the people who perform oversight and scrutiny to fully immerse themselves in their responsibilities.
Alastair McCraw self-confesses that he doesn’t do this.
He is the Council Executive’s ideal choice as Chairperson.
As such he is well qualified to be Poodle Councillor of the Year

Council Taxes & Precepts: Clarion Call

Often, the best form of defence is to get one’s retaliation in first.
I am aware of at least one council discussing raising their Council Tax impositions without any mention of the needs of their electorate or the effect of the rises upon their residents
We need to tell local councillors at Parish, District and County levels telling them that as residents and tax payers we do not wish to see any increase in the council taxes levied upon our households.
We know that many businesses have suffered in the past nine months, we know that people have been furloughed and are on reduced incomes, we also know that many families relying on casual work whether in the hospitality sector or otherwise have seen their personal finances devastated.
Budget decisions are due next month, but before then we need to tell our Councillors that any increase in the Council Tax this year is unacceptable.
It’s time Councils reviewed their expenditures into three categories: Luxurious, Nice to have and Need to have. The last category getting the first bite of the monies.
For example, the last time I looked, Suffolk had seventeen officers and senior staff responsible for internal and external communications. I have excluded from this number those persons concerned with Customer Services, Web and Digital Transformation. Those seventeen could not all be performing essential tasks relating to the proper stewardship of our monies.
Every council and organisation has its own little pockets of waste and extravagance. Even after years of austerity they can still be rooted out and the monies returned to the tax payer.
A version of this blog was published in the EADT on 26th December 2020

Winter is here for some

In 1986 Christopher Andersen published his book “The PO PO Principle”. Basically, it was a survival guide to office politics so that you could avoid being p**d on and p**d off.
No such good fortune was available to Ipswich’s Parks Department employees who are to be laid off as part of a budget cuts programme (EADT Nov 26).
Once again the Socialists in charge demonstrate that they talk about an even society whilst at the same time kicking the ladder away from those on the lower rungs.
What was The Leader of the Council, David Ellesmere thinking of?
If you want to save money in Local Government then you reduce administrative staff costs and other overheads.
If you do not have direct contact with the public or are at the front line of services, where is your value added?  Where are our Councillors who are supposed to protected us from executive excesses.
Instead of strategic thinking, Ellesmere and his cohorts act like WW1 generals. Never putting themselves in the line of fire, but forever sacrificing those who have few alternatives.

Ils sont nos poissons

It would appear that the French are still not happy with just controlling their half of the English Channel or La Manche, they want all the fish in the sea.
But Macron is no Charles de Gaulle and Boris is no Edward Heath.
On the 21st October we celebrated Trafalgar Day to commemorate the fact that 215 years ago we defeated the French and resolved once and for all who should rule the waves around Great Britain. Macron is no Napoleon either, despite his bluster.
They are our territorial waters and the French should look elsewhere.
Why are my Bremainer counterparts not supporting Macron? If the deal on offer is that good, they should be vocally supporting it and inviting French trawlers to station themselves in Dover or Douvres as they would rename it.
As always, Britain’s difficulties are seen to be France’s opportunities. But, this time around it’s not a case of “No, No Nanette” but “Absolument Non! Mr le President”
A version of this article was published in letter form in the East Anglian Daily Times on October 23rd


Meanwhile on Planet Babergh- Precision v. Accuracy

We’ve all had those days when we were much younger, when our boss asked us to produce a five/ten/twenty year forecast of whatever was taking his fancy at the time. The forecast would take into account economic cycles, inflationary expectations, disposable incomes, family sizes and so on. To make it credible all assumptions should be detailed and justified.
I suspect that something like that happened recently in Babergh & Mid Suffolk’s housing department when someone was asked to produce a twenty-year plan for housebuilding based on whatever factors were deemed relevant.
The answer is 17,568 homes over twenty years.
Note the precision.
Who believes this rubbish? In the real world our boss would have either called it 17,500 or being a clever sort, he might have said 15,000 so he could under promise and over deliver. If he was on the brink of an unwelcome retirement, he would have rounded the figure up to 25,000 so that his successors would be forever on the wrong end of target fulfillment.  
But he would have realized early on that the further away you are from the present the less reliable is your forecast and the more precise it is, the more it will attract criticism & derision.

Unfortunately, many of our public servants do not review their public utterances – hence precision taking precedence over accuracy and unreliable statistics rule our lives.

Not All News is Bad

This week’s local government elections in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk are not all bad news. Katherine Grandon was re-elected with only two votes less than 2015 but this time with a much reduced turnout.
Katherine ran as an Independent after quite surprisingly having found herself unadopted for a ward which she had loyally served for eight years as their Councillor.
So, definitely a case of rejoicing and champagne all round.
John Hinton was once a senior member of Babergh’s higher echelons until he fell out with the Council’s future direction. He also stood as an Independent and was resoundingly re-elected.
Elsewhere the Conservatives in East Cornard swept their board with three seats defeating two prominent Labour councillors.
The results for Babergh are not all milk and honey. The Conservatives have dropped from being the majority party to being merely the largest. Some decent people are no longer on the Council, but as always, some people will be gladly missed and hopefully soon forgotten.
It’s easy to blame Brexit for changes in fortune, but local personality and local loyalties also played a part. My friends who got re-elected understood that you must get out the votes if you want to be elected. Others, who rely upon the tides to lift them up, often find themselves beached when the tides go out.